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Con or Bust

Have you guys all already heard of the Con or Bust auction? Con or Bust is a nonprofit organization that helps fans of color attend f/sf conventions around the world, and right now they're raising money with a fabulous auction. If you look through, you'll find all sorts of amazing offerings, from the chance to name a character in a Naomi Novik book to a really cool set of dragon-themed jewelry. (I am so tempted by that one!) And you'll find an offering from me as well!

I'm offering an original, 500- to 1,000-word short-short story written to your personal specifications. I'm happy to either write a story about any character you choose from any of my books, or write a totally unrelated short-short story to your prompt. That prompt could be as specific as "please write me a Snow White story with dragons" or as general as "Please write me something historical" - whatever appeals to you, personally!

I'll write and email the story to you within one month of getting the commission (once the auction has officially closed). Then, for one month, the story will be all (and only) yours! After that, I may post the story on my website or here on my blog, but I'll make sure to credit you when I do that, and I'll never offer the story for sale. I'm also happy to mail you a printed and signed copy of the story, if you'd like.

Bidding opens today, and it'll continue until 4p.m. (US Eastern Standard Time) on Sunday, June 4th.

And whether or not that offering appeals to you, I hope you'll check out the rest of the auction - there are some amazing things on offer!

Birthdays, Dragons, Changes

I finished proofreading my first-pass pages for The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart today, and - embarrassingly or not! - the truth is, I cried at the end.

I love this book. And seeing it laid out in its to-be-published form (in the same typeface as Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book, according to my lovely editor at Bloomsbury!) made me feel really emotional...especially as a big date is coming up for me.

My birthday is arriving later this week. It's not a major, decade-birthday milestone - that'll come next year! But birthdays always have a way of bringing back the last year in review.

I remember when I was about to turn thirty, almost ten years ago, I felt like such a failure. I'd just been diagnosed with M.E./CFS and had had to give up my day job...but since my first agent and I had just amicably parted ways, there was no sign of the writing career I'd always dreamed of to replace it. So I was out of work, unagented, just-diagnosed with a lifelong chronic illness, and even though I'd been desperate to have kids - I wanted so badly to be a mom! - that didn't look like it was ever going to happen, either.

I felt rotten.

Then Patrick and I went to WisCon, my favorite f/sf con, and my 30th birthday happened on the same day as WisCon's famous dessert salon (where everyone dresses up in fabulous clothes and eats desserts with their friends - perfect!). I sat at a table full of wonderful friends from around the world, surrounded by even more friends at the neighboring tables, talking about books and writing and life with people I loved and believed in, who somehow, miraculously, believed in me too - and partway through, I was handed a birthday card signed by all my friends. Then the whole WisCon dessert salon sang me happy birthday as I sat there with my beloved husband and wonderful friends, and I felt so loved and supported and shockingly happy despite everything.

Just over a year later I had my first baby after all - AND I sold my first three books before that baby was born. Life can shift so quickly.

Now here's something I haven't talked about publicly before, but it's also true: I went for multiple years in my mid-thirties being absolutely terrified that I would never sell another book after that first trilogy. I really believed that those might be the only books I ever published under my own name. I wrote nine work-for-hire books under a pen name for a packager, I wrote my own new books in whatever time I could scavenge on the side, and I took deep, steadying breaths around my birthdays, as yet another year came and went without another book-sale of my own.

But then this past year... Well.

In this past year, since I turned 38, I sold three more books and I saw my first adult novel published. Yesterday, I got to read a beautiful review of Masks and Shadows in Book Reporter that said, among other things, "MASKS AND SHADOWS by Stephanie Burgis is one of the best historical fantasies to emerge so far this year."

This morning, I woke up to a really lovely tweet from one reader who'd loved M&S, and this weekend I got an email from another reader who'd found an escape in M&S during a really difficult time.

This morning I hit "send" on my proofreading corrections to The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart. Then I clicked "refresh" on my inbox just in case the cover for Congress of Secrets had arrived yet. (It hadn't! And it probably won't for another few weeks. I'm just impatient, because I loved the cover for M&S so much, I can't wait to see what they do for CoS!)

This weekend, I'll be celebrating my birthday with Patrick and our kids, who have PLANS for the day.

Life can change so quickly, in ways I couldn't have even imagined.

I'm feeling really, really lucky right now. And I can't wait to see what the next year holds.

Friends, Dragons, Happiness

This has been a week of hanging out with friends, and it's been lovely. On Monday, it was such a warm, sunny day, a good friend came over (carrying lunch with her! Yum!) and she and MrX and I hung out on a picnic blanket in our sunny garden, eating lunch, chatting, and knitting. (Well, okay, MrX didn't knit. But he did chat and play with dinosaurs and playmobil!) It was just idyllic.

On Wednesday, our friend and Clarion West classmate Emily Mah Tippetts (who writes fabulously fun books as E.M. Tippetts and creates wonderful jewelry and more as Emily Mah) came to visit with her husband and we all had lunch and chatted about books and more...and look what she'd made and brought for us!



Gorgeous dragon pens! And they came with such perfect timing, because guess what the manuscript underneath is? The hardcopy first-pass pages of The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart, which also arrived on Wednesday.

Talk about a perfect match of pens to content! ;) So, after spending Monday and Tuesday working on the first draft of my MG spies-and-fairies novel, I spent the next couple of days (dragon pen in hand!) with The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart. At this stage, I'm really just proofreading and trying not to let myself fiddle too much with other changes, so it's the first time I've been able to read the book - laid out beautifully, just like it will be in published form! - mostly for pleasure instead of for revision. It's a nice feeling!

And then on Friday afternoon, the week wound up with cake and coffee with my weekly coffee group of good friends, a group of fantastic women who've saved me multiple times over the last few years, in so many ways. Hanging out with them always feels so good.

Work, family, and friends. Just the right combination. :)

Storyspinning and Smartphones

For years, I was a cellphone Luddite. It took me forever to get a cellphone in the first place, and even longer to start giving people my number. But even after that, I kept on buying cheap pay-as-you-go cellphones, long after all of my friends had smartphones.

No, I couldn't go online with my cheap, basic phones, and I couldn't take pictures with them either, but why would I need to do any of that? I had a camera for taking pictures, and I had a laptop for going online. All I needed a cellphone for was to make and get phone calls when I was out of the house...and since I usually forgot to charge my phones, they often ended up lost for weeks at a time, unusable even for that one basic function.

But a smartphone felt like a totally unnecessary, decadent indulgence. How could I possibly justify spending that kind of money on a tech toy?

Then, a month and a half ago, my parents came to visit, and my dad really generously passed on his old iPhone to me. (Which - thank goodness! - comes with a "Find Your Phone" beeper app which has saved it sooooo many times since then. I am not good at remembering where I set things down!)

I was thrilled by the gift...but honestly, I had no idea just how hard I would fall in love with my smartphone, as a writer who is also a mom.

Here's the thing:

Before I was a mom, I would often get random short story ideas while I was out of the house, because going out - getting outside stimulation - is so good for creativity.

So I'd be out walking around town (or in a forest or a ruined abbey or wherever) when some vague, tenuous glimmering of a story idea would suddenly start to tease at me...and then I would sit down for as long as it took to daydream my way through that thread, and finally I would write out either a paragraph or so about that idea, or else a few paragraphs of basic description of wherever I was, to help myself recapture that mood and moment later.

That was before I had children.

Now I'm the mom of two young children - two wonderful, creative, lively, curious, adventurous, and frequently squabbling young children - and when I leave the house, 90% of the time, either one or both of my kids is with me. That means that 75% of my attention (at the bare minimum!) is focused on monitoring and responding to my kids, and a bare 25% is left to focus on our surroundings.

For the past several years, whenever I've been out and had that familiar tingling of my senses that signals a possible story idea in the air...one of my kids needs something that moment. Or one of my kids starts to do something unsafe, and I leap to stop them. Or they ask me a question, or they want me to look at the very cool thing they've just done, or, or, or...

And the moment is gone. That tenuous fragment of possibility has disappeared before I could capture it. There is no way I have time, in that situation, to stop, divorce myself from the rest of the world, and dream my way through that fragment of possibility into a real story idea - let alone sit down and write 2-3 paragraphs of description.

So that was it, for years...until my smartphone arrived!

Guess what? There's a reason it's so great to have a camera in my phone...because unlike my regular camera, I carry my phone with me all the time nowadays.

Sometimes (okay, most of the time) I just pull it out to take a quick snap of my kids, because they're adorable and I want to capture the moment.

Sometimes, too, I pull it out when I'm away from my kids and I see something I want to share with them:



(I can't even tell you how many times my 2-year-old has asked to look back at that photo of a neighborhood cat that I took almost two months ago! The kids still haven't met up with the cat themselves, but MrX asks to see the picture of "that cat neighbor" on my phone all the time!)

But then there are moments like the one that happened the other night.

I'd taken the kids around town all afternoon, running errands and eating in cafés and attending clubs. At the end of it all, in the early evening, we wandered down to wait by a nearby stream for Patrick to come pick us up. I've been to that stream many times, but this time, as I looked into it with the kids, I felt a sudden tingle - a story possibility, hovering there. I almost had it...

"Mummy! He took my stick!"

I defused the situation, I looked back at the stream, and as my kids raced along the bank of the stream, I realized that there was NO WAY I could take the time to sit down, pull out a notebook and write a description of what I was looking at, to capture that atmosphere and moment for good...

Aha!

I pulled out my phone.



It's not a great or artistic picture - but there it is! My moment, captured. I look at that picture, and I have the story in my head.

And OMG does that make a difference for me!

So in other words, years later than all the rest of my friends, I've finally realized: you were all right. Smartphones aren't just fun tech toys. They're amazing.

And Dad, thank you so much. That was a really great gift!

Now I'm going to do some more writing before it's time to take over with the kids again. :)
Whew! It's been a big week. Last Friday I took the train to London to have lunch with my wonderful agent, Molly:



We shared amazing hot chocolates (82% dark chocolate!) while we caught up on everything in the beautiful sunshine.



Then I took a cab over to the Bloomsbury offices to meet with my wonderful MG editor, Ellen, and we had coffee (and, in my case, an amazing apple tart) at a gorgeous Belgian café nearby while we talked about my next couple of books. Sadly, I forgot to take any photos! (Next time!) But afterwards, she pointed me toward the mother Foyles bookstore - six storeys full of over 2 million books! - and ohhh, I descended into it and might never have emerged again if I hadn't had a train to catch a few hours later. I limited myself to buying just 3 books, but it was an agonizing decision.

And look! Foyles is so amazing, I even got to see Masks and Shadows on the shelf for the very first time, even though it hasn't actually been published in the UK! I got very (over) excited. :)



(Of course I signed that copy, along with copies of the Kat books, too!)

Since getting back home, it's been a week of slow but steady progress on my 2018 MG book (spies and fairies, yay!), doing lots of house-cleaning (sigh - but SO necessary!), taking trips to the park with the kids, and of course doing lots of reading, too. Personally, I'm alternating (based on my mood!) right now between two really fabulous books:



Sheila Grau's Dr. Critchlore's School for Minions (which is wacky, funny, and so much fun, with a real, vulnerable heart beneath all the joyful silliness) and



Martin Stewart's Riverkeep (which is dark and gorgeous, creepy and magical). I'm loving both books in very different ways!

What about you guys? What are you reading right now?

And look: Patrick made two different graphics this week for Masks and Shadows's 1-month birthday!




Seeing them was a very nice way to celebrate. :)

Happiness List

Oof. We've had a fair number of stress factors going on lately (including the horrifying discovery yesterday that our washing machine had been leaking under the floor for the last month with scary results - auggggggh)...

...So between one thing and another, by this weekend it began to feel really important - life-saving, really - to ask myself, in the midst of stressful worries and Serious, Important Productivity goals, etc: What really makes me happy right now? Because I really need to focus on those points of happiness instead of just getting absorbed by all the stressful stuff.

So here's today's happiness list:



1. Knitting! I hadn't knitted for months, but now that we've moved house, I've started going to a biweekly knitting/chatting/cake-eating group hosted by a friend at a local cake shop. I hadn't knitted for months beforehand, but I brought along my favorite fingerless gloves pattern to the first meeting, just so I could knit to be social...but when I accidentally left that knitting project in a good friend's car, I realized I couldn't wait until I saw that friend again (and picked up the bag of knitting) to keep going!

So I treated myself this weekend to four new balls of Rowan Tweed felted wool (in 4 different complementary colors) and a nice new pair of circular needles, and started making myself a new shawl. It is the easiest possible pattern - it's a type called a "prayer shawl" because the act is supposed to be meditative, a way to shut off your brain with a nice repetitive action, without any need to count off stitches or think at all about the pattern as you do it - and ohhhhhh am I happy to be making it. Every time I start vibrating with anxiety, I pick up my needles, knit a few more rows, and feel like I've just had a long, cool drink.



2. I took my seven-year-old to the new Jungle Book film last night for his sake, feeling mildly sulky as we walked in because I really wanted to be watching Captain America: Civil War in the theater next door...but then, only minutes into my job as a dutiful parental chaperone, I found myself breathless with genuine wonder, blown away (and honestly shocked) by just how gorgeous a film it really was, and how emotionally heartfelt it was, too. I absolutely love the changes they've made from the original Disney film. They did an amazing job of bringing in the almost mystical feel of the original book while taking away most of the problematic issues from both the book and that first film.

Idris Elba was amazing as a truly terrifying Shere Khan, and Lupita Nyongo's Raksha (Mowgli's wolf mother) may have been my favorite character in the film. I was really glad to see her character made so much more of in this film - the first time I ever re-watched the old Jungle Book as an adult (and a mom myself), I thought: Wait, what about his mom who raised him? How does she feel about all of this? And - as the mom of a little boy who's about the same age that Mowgli looked in the film - I have to admit, I sobbed during their goodbye scene early in this film. But I also loved how powerful her character was as a wolf alpha by the end, not just as a protective mother. And without any spoilers, the ending made me very, very happy.

And I could gush a lot more...but I won't. ;) I'll just say: it's not a flawless film, but I truly loved watching it, and I pre-ordered the DVD the moment we got home.



3. Hamster Princess: Of Mice and Magic

I really liked Book 1 in this series, so I was curious about Book 2...and oh, I loved this one! I inhaled it in one afternoon, laughing out loud again and again, and then I read it to my seven-year-old, who loved it SO MUCH that he immediately demanded we re-read Book 1, and needless to say, we've pre-ordered Book 3 as well and are counting down the days until it's published. Of Mice and Magic is an utterly hilarious and subversive retelling of The Twelve Dancing Princesses which adds a huge dose of empowerment and snark to the original fairy tale. LOVE. You can read my whole Goodreads review here.



4. These doodles made by a 7-year-old boy in medieval Novgorod will be immediately familiar to everyone who has ever had a seven-year-old and anyone who has ever been seven themselves, and I love the whole write-up about them. I had a huge grin on my face by the end of it! Definitely worth reading all the way through.







5. I am loving all the pictures people have sent me so far of Masks and Shadows in the wild. Thank you guys SO MUCH! Every single one brightens my day when I see it.

Seriously, thank you guys so much for the support and enthusiasm I've gotten in the first few weeks of Masks and Shadows's publication. Everyone who's bought it, read it, reviewed it, talked about it online in or in person...I can't tell you how much of a difference it makes. I am so grateful for every bit of it. Thank you!

What about you guys? What's on your happiness list this week?

ARCs, Podcasts, and Chocolate Celebrations

Whew! I just sent off the copyedited manuscript for The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart. One step closer to the published book!

AventurineSketch2-web.jpg

(Art by the wonderful Sally Jane Thompson!)

And just a quick reminder: you can still bid to win an early, signed ARC of The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart and raise money for refugees as part of the fabulous Writing for Charity Refugee Benefit Auction! You can also bid to win an early, signed ARC of my next romantic adult fantasy novel, Congress of Secrets - or bid on any of the other fabulous offerings there from authors, editors, and agents.

And if you're in the UK, now would be a great time to sign this petition to help child refugees, too.

On a lighter note, I was really happy to be invited to be a guest on the fabulous Functional Nerds podcast (which I've now gotten completely hooked on!), and you can listen to that episode online now or download it to your own phone or computer. It was a really fun conversation about music, history, books and writing, and I had a great time. Thanks, John and Patrick!



Now I'm getting ready to spend an afternoon running errands in town with my two-year-old...and, oh yes, scheduling a chocolate celebration in town, too, for having sent off those copyedits! Woot! I Have Plans. Chocolatey, chocolatey plans. Mmmm. :)

Masks and Shadows Makes its UK Début!

Aaand whew! The beautiful paperback of Masks and Shadows is finally available in the UK, too! You can order it from Foyles or Amazon UK already (and I hope it'll go live on Waterstones.com and Blackwell's soon, too - for some reason those two sites are still calling it a pre-order for now).

Since this book is only being published right now by my American publisher (which holds World English rights), you probably won't see it stocked in many British stores...but it gave me great delight to see that it is already in stock in the Foyles on Charing Cross Road! :)

Masks and Shadows.jpg

Meanwhile, I have been sooooo grateful for every single review already posted for Masks and Shadows on Amazon, B&N.com, and Goodreads! Thank you guys SO much. Reviews make a huge difference! Any time you have five minutes to write even just a very short one (whether good or bad), you're doing a huge favor to the author in terms of visibility.

(And don't worry - I have a VERY strict policy of never reading any reviews with low star ratings - it's not good for me or for the reviewers! - so even if you don't like the book, you can write an honest review without worrying that you're going to hurt my feelings. I won't even know about it! But I'll be grateful to see the review numbers grow anyway.)

Today has been a big catch-up day for me. I've been catching up on housework after our long weekend away; I've been catching up on admin from our house-move; I've been trying to finally, FINALLY catch up on my email...and on a totally fun note, I've been catching up on episodes of the (fabulous) Functional Nerds podcast (which Patrick had been recommending to me for ages!), because I'm going to be interviewed by them this weekend. (I'll let you guys know when the podcast goes live!)

Good luck with your week!
Way back in January, when I got my first check from Bloomsbury, I knew exactly what I wanted to do to celebrate it and reward both myself AND my family: book a family holiday! So I did...and this weekend, it finally happened. We stayed in a cottage in the middle of pine woods, with a little lake just behind it, and 14 fluffy ducklings swimming around that lake with their parents. (Also with a shop nearby that conveniently sold bags of duck and swan food!) We took nature walks and went swimming and drove out to a safari park and and and...

It was an amazing weekend for the boys and for me and Patrick. I loved it.

Now that we're back, I'm crashing with the M.E., but it was totally worth it. So I'm spending my time lying on the couch sorting through photos and editing a short story that will be published later this year, while I look forward to getting copyedits for my next MG fantasy book sometime in the next few days.

And speaking of my next two books...



Shannon Hale and Mette Harrison have organized an amazing auction to raise money for refugees. All of the money raised will go to Lifting Hands International, a charity that gets lifesaving supplies directly to refugee camps. (And I really do mean EVERY cent of the money raised will go there, because an anonymous donor has chipped in to pay all the administrative fees! So you can be confident that every penny you pay will be going directly to the cause.)

You can see the whole catalogue of items (and register as a member of the auction, so that you can make your bids) here. There are so many amazing offerings from authors, editors, and agents...

And I'm offering two items, too. If you've read Masks and Shadows and want an early copy of my next adult book, Congress of Secrets, you're in luck: you can bid to win an early, signed Advance Reading Copy of Congress of Secrets here! I'll send you the signed ARC as soon as I have it, probably in June - nearly 5 months before the book's publication!

And if you're waiting impatiently to read my next MG fantasy...you can bid to win an early, signed ARC of The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart here! You'll get the signed ARC in the mail as soon as I get my own copies - probably in August, which is around 8 (!!!) months prior to publication!

And whether you bid on one of my items or on any of the other amazing offerings in that auction, you'll be doing real good for people who desperately need it. This is a cause I care passionately about, and I really hope you'll check out the full auction!

Now my littlest boy is home from his morning of childcare, and it's time to put down the computer and start playing with trains and reading picturebooks with him.

Happy Tuesday!

Reddit AMA today!

Hi guys!

This is just to let you know that you can Ask Me Anything over at Reddit today between 3-5pm EST (a.k.a. 8-10pm UK-time).

Here's the link to the AMA.

I'll be there answering questions from 3-5 EST, but if that time doesn't work for you, don't worry! You can post your questions to that forum earlier in the day and I'll answer them as soon as I get there. (The link should stay up afterwards, so you'll be able to read the whole AMA at your convenience.)

Meanwhile, I'm spending today playing frogs with my two-year-old, packing for an upcoming family holiday, and sighing happily over more photos of Masks and Shadows in the wild. (This one is from a B&N in New Brunswick, and the placement made me ridiculously happy!) (Lois McMaster Bujold's book next to mine! Ahhhhhhhhh!) (Oops. Please excuse the squeaking noises over here... ;) )



Please keep those photos coming! They are making me so happy.

And thank you so much to everyone who's already reviewed Masks and Shadows. I appreciate it SO MUCH!

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